At the Edge of the Orchard Discussion Questions

Instructor: Bethany Calderwood

Bethany has taught special education in grades PK-5 and has a master's degree in special education.

'At the Edge of the Orchard' is a gritty pioneer tale of apples, family, and regret. These discussion questions will help students explore the story, literary aspects, and personal applications of Tracy Chevalier's frontier novel.

At the Edge of the Orchard

Are you and your students exploring the experiences of the American pioneers? At the Edge of the Orchard puts a new face on pioneering homesteaders and goldrush miners beginning with the tragedy of the Goodenough family in Ohio, then following the youngest Goodenough son, Robert, as he treks west to the Pacific ocean. Woven throughout this story of hardship and heartache are the seeds of James Goodenough's beloved apple trees. After reading this novel with your high school students, dig deeper with some thoughtful discussion.

Questions About the Story

  • How does Sadie feel about James's trees? Why? Is there something in your experience that poses a similar obstacle or frustration?
  • Explain the difference between 'spitters' and 'eaters.' Which character favored 'spitters' and which favored 'eaters'? Why?
  • How are James and Sadie trapped? What options did they have? Can you think of options they did not consider?
  • How is Robert different from his siblings? How do each of his parents feel about him? How might this early difference have contributed to his later life experiences?
  • With all of his varied experiences traveling west, why do trees appeal to Robert most? How does his attitude about trees differ from others he meets?
  • How does Molly change things for Robert? What is Molly looking for? How does Robert meet her expectations?
  • How does Martha's appearance change Robert's view of his past?
  • What is Molly's assessment of the deaths of James and Sadie when she hears Robert's story? How might her view affect Robert going forward?
  • What are Robert's reservations about settling down with a family? How do you think it will work out for him?
  • What is left unresolved at the end of this book? What secrets should stay secret, and what do you wish you knew for sure? How do you feel about an author employing ambiguity?

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